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Fun, creative ways to get your kids to love being outdoors

The next time your family is looking for a warm-weather alternative to the beach or pool, consider these outdoor activities for kids of all ages.

Visit a butterfly garden

Two monarch butterflies cling to flowers inside the
Photo Credit: Brittany Wait

Spread your proverbial wings and let your imagination soar at the Suffolk County Farm Butterfly Garden (350 Yaphank Ave., Yaphank, 631-852-4600, Beginning in late spring, families can walk into a live butterfly habitat, complete with plants indigenous to the area. Kids can observe the different phases of a butterfly’s life and identify which plants best attract these visitors to Long Island backyards. After checking out the butterflies, kids can visit and feed the farm animals grazing on the property, including goats and sheep. Cost Suggested donation $2 a person, plus a charge for animal feed; $3 for a souvenir cup; $1 for refills. Hours 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daily.

Try goat milk at a dairy farm

Goats are photographed at Catapano Dairy Farm in
Photo Credit: Timothy Fadek

May marks the start of the goat-milking season — and the beginning of fresh goat’s milk, cheese and other local dairy-based products at the Catapano Dairy Farm (33705 County Rd. 48, Peconic, 631-765-8042, Visitors to the farm can sample fresh cheese at no charge. As the season progresses, other cheeses and yogurts are available for purchase, along with the farm’s line of goat milk-based creams and soaps. A viewing window provides a glimpse into the farm’s milking parlor, where families can watch the milking process every day at 4 p.m. at no cost. Walking tours of the farm, which include a corral teeming with four-legged kids — they have their very own boat to play in — an overview of goat husbandry, cheese-making and a milking demonstration, take place from 2 to 3 p.m. on the third Wednesday of June, July and August. Cost Free. Hours Daily starting June 1, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Take a tour of an arboretum

Steve Richer (36) and his daughter Talia (3)
Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

Visitors to the main greenhouse at Planting Fields Arboretum (1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay, 516-922-9210, will feel as if they stepped inside a tropical paradise. This coveted spot plays home to a variety of blooming plants and flowers reserved for warmer climates, including bananas (musa acuminate), grapefruit (citrus paradise), sweet orange (citrus sinensis) and Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). Kids can discover where their favorite chocolate bar originates (the cocoa bush). While the tour is self-guided, arboretum staff members are on hand to answer questions. There’s also a plant detective activity that encourages kids to search for different greenery during their visit. Cost Admission to the greenhouse is included in the $8 parking fee. Hours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily.

Check out the lavender farm

Visitors take in the fields of lavender at
Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Out on the North Fork is a taste — or rather a scent — of the French countryside, on a local farm boasting 17 acres of lavender that blooms from mid-June to mid-July. Visitors to Lavender by the Bay (7540 Main Rd., East Marion, 631-477-1019, can walk through the fragrant fields of English and French lavender, pose for photos and, during the week when it’s not so busy, pick their own lavender in a designated area (baskets and scissors are provided). A modest-size gift shop, which carries dried and fresh lavender, bath and body products and honey (from local hives), provides plenty of reminders of the day. Cost $9 a person on weekends, $6 on weekdays, children younger than 12 are free. Hours Daily, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.; field closes at 4:30 p.m.; u-pick is available 9-11:30 a.m. Monday-Thursday. 

Try bird watching

A bird watching program at Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary
Photo Credit: Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary

See if your kids can spot the migrating warbler, who is said to make his presence known during spring and summer. Visitors to the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary & Audubon Center (34 Cove Rd., Oyster Bay, 516-922-3200, can borrow binoculars (or bring their own) to spot these feathered friends or borrow a net to catch a frog from the pond on the property. Hiking trails that loop back to the center are perfect for families on the move, but strollers aren’t recommended in this woodchip-covered area. Before heading home, sit down and take a breather at one of the picnic tables as you watch the bird feeders teeming with activity. Cost Free. Hours Center is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; trails are open daily, dawn to dusk.


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